Yesterday was the beginning and the end of the DARPA Network Challenge. MIT's Red Balloon Challenge Team won in less than 9 hours. (Press Release pdf) DARPA tested the power of social networking and found it powerful. According to CNN, DARPA will be interviewing the participating teams to understand how they built their networks, motivated participation, and collected their information. Realize that false positives were an issue (certainly you can ask people what they see -- but how do you know if you can believe them?) From the DARPA site:
To mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA has announced the DARPA Network Challenge, a competition that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems. The challenge is to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red, weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.
...and I missed seeing any of them (one was in San Francisco's Union Square -- so I had a shot).DARPABalloons The MIT strategy focused on the viral creation of a social network of support:
Sign Up, Invite Your Friends, Help Science, Win Money! We're giving $2000 per balloon to the first person to send us the correct coordinates, but that's not all -- we're also giving $1000 to the person who invited them. Then we're giving $500 whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on...
They made sure the payoff model was clear:
It might play out like this. Alice joins the team, and we give her an invite link like http://balloon.media.mit.edu/alice. Alice then e-mails her link to Bob, who uses it to join the team as well. We make a http://balloon.media.mit.edu/bob link for Bob, who posts it to Facebook. His friend Carol sees it, signs up, then twitters about http://balloon.media.mit.edu/carol. Dave uses Carol's link to join... then spots one of the DARPA balloons! Dave is the first person to report the balloon's location to us, and the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team is the first to find all 10. Once that happens, we send Dave $2000 for finding the balloon. Carol gets $1000 for inviting Dave, Bob gets $500 for inviting Carol, and Alice gets $250 for inviting Bob. The remaining $250 is donated to charity.
  • Motivation: For you, your friends, for charity
  • Opportunity: The MIT Red Balloon homepage was built to easily accept the finds), DARPA made sure they weren't hidden in invisible locations
  • Ability: MIT gave clear hints about how to do this -- invite your friends (why didn't anyone invite me?!), use Twitter, Facebook
Yes, this was a social networking story -- but you can also look deeper to understand the value in the MIT approach. They didn't just rely on social networking, they practiced TOP Management. Technology: They built a solid website enabled to take in exactly the information they needed and then certainly had some technical processing to manage and evaluate that data. Organization: They created clear organizational practices - "This is how to organize your friends," "this is how you get paid." People: They used tried and true foundations around the management of human performance -- Motivation, Opportunity, Ability. Well done! Other insights into MIT's process (or those of any of the other teams') appreciated.